From Thalif Deen at the United Nations
NEW YORK - As a major international donor conference begins in Kandy tomorrow, Sri Lanka's post-tsunami reconstruction plans may go haywire due to the multiplicity of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating without a coordinated plan of action.
Coco McCabe of Oxfam, one of the world's biggest international relief agencies, told The Sunday Times that despite some examples of good practices, the overall coordination among nearly 700 NGOs "remains poor".
"The problem on the ground is that many agencies, in their haste to spend and with their lack of experience and knowledge of the context, just want to get on with reconstruction without consulting local communities," she said.
In Sri Lanka, she pointed out, there are cases of transitional housing for fisher families being constructed in an agricultural area, five miles inland with no convenient public transportation.
"How will fisherfolk, who own no trucks of even motorbikes, manage their boats and sustain their access to the sea? The resources and time taken to provide these transitional homes end up as waste: the houses go unoccupied and the latrines unused. Ultimately, they get torn down and replaced by something appropriate," she added.
Ms. McCabe said many aid groups showing up in tsunami-hit areas, both in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, were either unfamiliar with internationally recognised standards or were simply ignoring them as they attempt to define a role for themselves.
"Under these circumstances, coordination becomes critical, and donors should ensure that more money goes towards coordination," she added. Oxfam has taken the lead in some water and sanitation coordination meetings, providing technical support to agencies with less experience.
Ms. McCabe said there remained a lack of clarity on certain issues, such as the impact of buffer zones on people's ability to return to their homes. In the tsunami emergency, the estimated expenditure per person will be a high of over $400 compared with $40 per person in Kosovo and just 40 cents per person in the Mozambique floods.
But although the donor community pledged about $6.7 billion for tsunami reconstruction, only $2.6 billion have been in firm commitments. The rest is in limbo. However, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), one of the UN's lead agencies in tsunami recovery, is suffering from an embarrassment of riches.
UNICEF's Gordon Weiss told The Sunday Times that his agency appealed for $144 million for tsunami relief and rehabilitation, just after the disaster struck the countries of the Indian Ocean region back in December last year.
By the end of January, UNICEF had received over $510 million, nearly four times its requirements, most of it in hard cash, not pledges. The agency made a second appeal asking donors to stop sending money. Pointing out that UNICEF was a development agency, Weiss said it will be involved in both relief and reconstruction in Sri Lanka -- including child protection, health, education, water and sanitation.
Asked about UNICEF's policy of working with rebel groups, Weiss said: "We work at the pleasure of the government. We are not an NGO, and we don't have that luxury." In countries such as Sudan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, he said, UNICEF is caught between governments and rebel groups.
But in both relief work and reconstruction efforts -- whether vaccinating children or rebuilding schools -- the agency works mostly through governments. "Our representatives have diplomatic status," he said, a privilege granted by the government, not by any rebel group.
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